An open letter to Stan Kroenke
I read Sunday that the St. Louis Rams were the “clear front-runner” to move to Los Angeles in 2016. At the time, I was watching the second half of a Rams game that was on pace to feature more penalties than points for the home team.
Late in the 4th quarter, the camera panned up to the owner’s box, where you were having a meeting and wearing a suit that probably costs more than my mortgage payments. The game seemed to be the last thing on your mind.
While I don’t own any shares of the Rams, I, like many of the 55,851 fans who paid to see yesterday’s game, have a vested interest in the team.
St. Louis is my hometown. It is part of my identity.
It also labels most of my wardrobe. Shirts, hats, jackets, even socks. All embroidered or screen printed with some combination of my three favorite letters — STL.
Before the Rams moved to town, football never caught my attention. I had been to a Super Bowl party or two, but my heroes wore my city’s name. Ozzie Smith’s backflips. Al MacInnis’ slapshots. Those were my memories.
When I was seven years old, something magical happened. Georgia Frontiere announced that she was going to move her NFL team, the Rams, to her hometown, St. Louis.
At the time, I didn’t understand all of the work that went into bringing an NFL team to a new city. St. Louis had already lost one NFL team the year before I was born, and desperately wanted to become an NFL city again. So much so that it offered hundreds of millions of dollars out of an already strained budget to help fund a stadium that would be used 8 times per year.
None of this mattered to me. I was a small boy from a little midwestern city. But on Sundays, I got to see my team fight New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Seattle. Sometimes we even won!
Now my closet had new names. Jerome Bettis. Kurt Warner. Marshall Faulk.
At 18, I left St. Louis to go to college in Michigan, and then followed my career to California. But, despite just 4 winning seasons in 20 years, the Rams continue to be a part of my Sundays. One day, I hope to move back to St. Louis and take my children to Rams games. Before each game, we’ll stop by the statue of Kurt Warner and I’ll recount the story of how a grocery clerk became a Super Bowl champion. Then they’ll remind me that I tell this same story every week, and pull me by my jacket sleeves into the stadium for another frustrating, but ultimately fun Rams game.
Look. It’s clear. The NFL never wanted the Rams in St. Louis. They also desperately want a team in Los Angeles. Put these two together and moving the Rams to LA seems obvious.
But right now, from Chesterfield to Clayton, Florissant to Ferguson, blue and gold jerseys are carefully wrapped and hidden under Christmas trees. Many of them are addressed to children about to start a lifelong obsession with football.
I don’t expect you to change your mind for the benefit of a few kids that you have never met. But at least consider who those children will become. Just like the generation of St. Louisans who grew up without basketball after the Spirits of St. Louis left, these kids won’t miss the NFL. They won’t buy NFL jerseys. They won’t buy NFL Sunday Ticket. They will find other sports with teams that proudly display “St. Louis” on the front of their jerseys, and they will love them every day for the rest of their lives.
The NFL does not have a birthright to our money. We repeatedly shell out hundreds of dollars for a team that hasn’t had a winning record in over a decade because we (irrationally) believe that the St. Louis Rams are “our team.”
Come January 2016, that might not be true. I hope it will never come to this. But if it does, I will not have a bonfire for my jerseys. Instead, I’ll carefully wrap them up and offer them for free to a Los Angeles family with a young son or daughter, and hope they get a few years of enjoyment from them before the NFL threatens to move the team to London, or Mexico City, or wherever else a market analysis shows a slightly higher television audience.
Mr. Kroenke: You might own the deed to the Rams. But this is not your team. You are its caretaker. It was a team before you were born and it will be a team after you are gone.
St. Louis is prepared to love and support the Rams for many more decades. If you would like to own an NFL team in Los Angeles, please work with the NFL to purchase an expansion team and sell the Rams to someone willing to keep them in St. Louis. This is likely our town’s last chance to remain an NFL city. Please don’t take football away from us.
Future Owner, St. Louis Blues